26 July 2006


Unpacking is strange. You put away things from the last year, recent memories that are suddenly a part of your past, tidily blending them into your present, while trying not to forget.

The problem is, I don't want them to blend yet. I want Japan to be real for a long time.

23 July 2006


I complain about the mold, how the towels are never completely dry, how my hair frizzes, how the buses are late from stopping at every stop, how the sheets are perpetually damp...but I never thought the rainy season could be so romantic.

There is something so soothing about keeping the windows open; about going to sleep with the rain and waking up to the rain and going to sleep again the next night with the eternal splashing and splishing only two feet from your ears; rain with the patience of mountains, whispering and singing you to sleep every night like the one before.

I mentioned this already, but it feels like whatever was brittle before is now being continuously dipped and coated in warm oil. Warm oil that makes you feel clean and refreshed, despite the damp sheets and the towels that never dry.

22 July 2006

Inheriting the Kimono

I have often tried to express, however uneloquently, that I have received so much in the past year it is hard to give it all back. Not just from people in Japan but from so many of the people I love at home. I want to return everything people have given me, but about whether I accomplish that or not, I can't really be the judge. As I like to say, I am trying to do my best and "play the hand I've got." When the cards are all shuffled and redistributed I hope that the hands are even, that they can at least express my gratitude, but ultimately I am not the one who decides if I've succeeded at this.

However, in some cases, I KNOW there is just no adequate thank you I can give for the way I've been touched. And one of those cases involves a school librarian named Hattori Sensei. Not only did she invite me to her home for cooking lessons, take me to one of her harp lessons, and teach me some Japanese by correcting my journal with lots of encouragement, but also she planned a trip to Kyoto to give me the chance to see a maiko dance performance. (Maiko are like mini-geishas, or geishas-in-training, and this opportunity is extremely rare). The dance was beautiful and enchanting, of course, but what really meant a lot to me that weekend was her time. We had a long bus ride and we talked about everything --cultural differences, education, feminism, immigration, relaxation, even romance, which is a pretty unusual discussion to have in Japan with someone 40 years your senior.

At school Hattori Sensei is busy and somewhat formal; I think she strikes people as pretty rigid, with a somewhat "my way or the highway" attitude, which can make you an oddball in Japan. Maybe she saw little bits of herself in me the way I saw little pieces of myself in her. In any case, this exterior is just that -- an exterior. Japan has taught me the value of really being patient with people and trusting that there is so much more inside of them. Not only about their personalities, but also about their feelings for you. And it's earned with time and care and patience and responsiveness, before reaping the joys of really getting to know someone. In America I've had hard lessons of "things are not always what they seem." But in Japan, instead of being a harsh reality, this maxim has been more like a slow-happy-peaceful truth. Quite Buddhist I guess.

In any case, I have valued the time spent with Hattori Sensei because she has taught me so much outside of work. I know that I understand her better than some of other teachers because they don't have a chance to get to know her. And this goes for many teachers at my school -- I've learned that being patient and open and asking little from people can lead to learning so much about them. And the more you know about someone the more likely you are to discover things you have in common, or discover ways you connect, beyond analyzing potential romances or guys or whatever allows women to most easily bond with one another.

For me this really hits a nerve. I used to think the way to understand people was to analyze them. And let me tell you I am good at analyzing. I considered being a psychologist, at many people's urging, for a LONG time. But somewhere along the line, I realized that the way to understand someone is just to wait. Observe and wait, that's it, and that's different from analyzing. Be patient and good things will come to you. And when you respond to the things that ARE given to you, the good will just keep on coming. People will trust you and open up more and your friendships will deepen and when you see the librarian racing through the teachers' room with her jaw set and her lips tight because she's on some undisclosed mission, you'll just smile to yourself because despite the way she may seem uptight, you know her and you love her for a lot more than what everbody else can see in that moment.

This lesson, this personified truth, is the intangible thing Hattori Sensei passed on to me. But the other thing, the tangible inheritance that is actually quite silky, is a kimono.

Last weekend Hattori Sensei gave me a kimono she wore before she got married, including the necessary under-kimono and fittings and attachments and obi and even 2 silk kimono-style jackets. I know that the best way I can thank her is to wear them. To say it was a generous gift is an understatement. The kimono is off-white with a very Japanese-style print pattern of flowers and birds, really quite beautiful. (For some reason I had a mental image of something plain and maroon, so I was delighted when I actually saw the real thing she was giving me.) I stood on Hattori Sensei's tatami mats, her yanking on the silk while yelling at her husband to stay out Lauren's not dressed yet, and when she finished the obligatory pulling and wrapping and tying, she stood back to look at me and I watched her eyes widen.

Lauren, she said, it's like it was made for you. It fits perfectly. Look.

I went over to the mirror and discovered that it did, indeed, fit perfectly.

After 4 hours of dressing and undressing and redressing, in an attempt to teach me the simplest way to wear a kimono so that I can wear it on my own, we moved on to photographs, and ice cream, and finally the lesson on kimono storage. There is a rather complicated way to fold the kimono when you're not wearing it, and giving verbal directions in detail becomes rather ridiculous. Exasperated and laughing, Hattori Sensei said finally,

Just follow the wrinkles. That will show you where to fold.

As we were packing everything for me to take home, I tried to thank her and tell her how honored I was to receive such a gift and that I was excited about wearing it. But her response made me stop. Still folding and not even looking up at me, she said,

Yes. All these years, I was keeping it for you.

Yet another lesson in patience and trusting that good things will come. Hattori Sensei had something beautiful to give away, something that meant a lot to her but that was now better shared with someone else. And the tone in her voice was like "all those years," she never doubted or worried that she would find the right person to give it to. It made me think of falling in love. All the people who worry and scheme and think they have to finagle their way into a worthwhile relationship. Trying to plan and plan, worried that what they have to give might go unnoticed or unused or unwitnessed or wasted. But the combination of her words and tone of voice was so powerful to me it made me feel like I never had to worry about anything. It was, perhaps, how a non-Christian would describe fate; Hattori Sensei is a practicing Buddhist so she wouldn't say, "God has a plan and things work out the way they should," but her message was clearly along the same lines. And it was a message that hit me pretty hard.

You can't see the future, but what's going to happen is what's going to happen. You do your best, and remain patient, and things will fall into place. When Hattori Sensei made that comment, there was no hint of impatience or worry or strain or doubt at all, and no hint that those feelings had EVER been there in the first place. She didn't say, "I was WAITING for you to come along and FINALLY you are here and now I can give it to you!" She said only, "I was keeping it for you," and that was that. I think the difference in those two statements is very powerful. Her obvious faith in fate, or whatever you want to call it, really impressed a lot upon me. Sure, it's just a kimono. But when Hattori Sensei gave it to me, she gave me a lot more than some feminine yards of silk fabric. I'm humbled that she chose to give it to me. But what excited me most of all was her belief that things just work the way they're supposed to work.

JET Journal

Good news!

A teacher gave me a small book of tanka written by Japanese college students. Tanka are similar to haiku but a little longer, with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format. They should describe a specific moment in time, an action or something concrete, instead of just an abstract emotion. After reading the book I decided to try writing some myself and put them down in my journal. Later, I saw a call for submissions to the JET Journal, the JET Program annual publication that's distributed to all current and incoming JETs. So I submitted my tanka and some of them were published! Click the link and it should open to page 74.


21 July 2006

The Spider

Today I got dressed up for the school's closing ceremony, where I made a teary goodbye speech in Japanese and surprised a lot of people, including myself. My last day at school was extremely emotional, memorable, touching, and humbling. I hope to write more about it later, but for now I'm still trying to process it all.

What I have been thinking about all day is what I saw when I stepped off the bus, my curly hair frizzing and my mascara running in the rain. I stood there in the street, frozen in shock like a deer in headlights, unable to move or open my umbrella because of sheer terror. There, so big that it was actually CROSSING THE STREET, and headed right for ME, was the biggest and most terrifying spider I have ever seen in my life.

It was so big, I swear on the curly locks of my first-born child, its body was half the size of my fist. It was covered in short-haired, soft-looking zig zag stripes of grey and brown. Including the legs the spider was the size of my entire hand. I stood there between a spider and a bus, my mouth open horror, actually debating which option would save me from death: run towards the spider? Or back into the street towards the bus? It was making a BEELINE for me, this spider SO HUGE it was not an arachnid, but more like a small animal. A small, terrifying animal I could not actually believed existed. Much bigger than a tarantula. I could not believe my eyes, and that is probably why I continued to stare without moving -- I could not believe this creature was actually a spider, below rats and other small animals on the species chain. Have I mentioned that this thing was big? It was colossal.

A student got off the bus behind me and relief melted my frozen joints. He could save me! Then I started to talk.


I screamed in informal Japanese, much like I had yelled at the gardener when I saw the huge hornet.

LOOK! I repeated. IT'S HUGE!!! I made no attempts to hide anything I was feeling.

The student's eyes widened as he realized the spider was now charging him. But then I saw him shoot a sideways glance in my direction. A mischevious glance. Instead of moving out of the way, the student held his ground, and allowed the spider to crawl up onto his shoe. More disbelief, more screaming in Japanese, more terrified Lauren.


The student started laughing until he began kicking his foot and realized the spider had better grip than he'd anticipated. As the spider continued up his pants leg, I just continued screaming. The student's smile turned into an expression of panic and he began kicking and shaking his leg much harder. Eventually, the spider flew off, in my direction, so I shot off down the street towards the school. When I felt I was at a safe distance, assuming the spider was off battling cars and transfer trucks instead of helpless humans, I felt bold enough to turn around.


I yelled at the student one more time, and then we smiled at each other.

Good morning, he said.

Good morning.

And we calmly walked into school. I couldn't stop grinning and shaking my head until I walked through the door. My love of Japan involves so many peaceful things, like gardens and kimonos and tea ceremonies. But it also involves a lot of screaming.

20 July 2006

The Key to Happiness

...my friends, is adaptability.

read & learn:

[Setting: 2 weeks ago, Lauren's bedroom]

LAUREN: (upon seeing cockroach on her ceiling) AHHH! EEEHHH! **)!$?%&!! What are you doing here???? GET OUT!! GET OUUUTTT!!!!

[Setting: 1 week ago, Lauren's kitchen]

LAUREN: (jumping back from her stove as a roach runs out from under her teapot) AHH! %##!?&!! Ferdinand, go away!!

[Setting: this evening, Lauren's bathroom]

LAUREN: (with boredom, watching a roach crawl across her floor) Oh hey, it's you. Listen, I'm leaving in 3 days, but a new ALT is coming. Her name is Emily. But don't worry, she probably won't eat much.

[Setting: 10 minutes later, Lauren's kitchen]

LAUREN: (upon counting no less than 3 roaches, flicks off the lights with continued boredom) Hey guys, beer's in the fridge. Leave me the sake.


19 July 2006

OC II Class

This class of seniors had to be my favorite. (Yes, most of them are bigger than I). No matter what, they always made me feel excited and uplifted. Every day they'd look up at me from their desks, and you could tell from their eager expressions that they expected me to be happy and full of the energy, to give them a good class every time. When good students expect the best from you, you want to give it to them. Yesterday I received thank you notes saying, "I loved this class because you were always happy and smiling. English was always fun." But don't they realize why?

Tea Ceremony Club

What I WILL most definitely miss is my school, Fuji Higashi High School. The students, the clubs, the teachers -- including SadouBu, or tea ceremony club.

The girls in SadouBu were always so sweet and inclusive and eager to teach me the steps. Every single move during this traditional tea ceremony is choreographed, so much so that it's like a slow dance on your knees. Your steps, posture, angle of your wrists, number of times you sip, method of passing the bowl to the next person, which hand you use to do what -- literally every move must follow a set pattern. The result is that, far from being annoying, the whole process is quite meditative and soothing. I always left tea ceremony club feeling very peaceful.

In the photos:

The man is the tea ceremony "master," and the girl serving tea will become one of the new leaders. She's one of my favorites. All these girls have been my students at one point. Doing something with them outside of class thrills them no end, and makes me very happy. The Japanese sweets are made of white bean paste wrapped in a sticky, firm, jelly-like substance made from seaweed.

16 July 2006

What I WON'T Miss

In an effort to add some sugar to a bittersweet goodbye, here's a list of things that I will not miss about living in Japan.

  • mold growing on everything from floors to backpacks to shoes to wooden coasters to the sprouts indepedently growing from my sponge. It is THAT disgustingly humid.
  • huge cockroaches I can do nothing about
  • NO CENTRAL HEATING or AC anywhere
  • "celebrity status," ie total lack of privacy
  • having to be overly-conservative about everything because of the teacher reputation I am expected to uphold
  • spending too much time in front of the computer
  • waiting for late buses and then getting whiplash from crazy drivers
  • not having a car or otherwise any access to good transportation
  • the high cost of produce
  • pollution and ugly smokestacks in my town
  • rough washers and dryers = worn-out clothes
  • lack of a "real" bed
  • complete lack of the "and on day 7 He rested" concept
  • always being the object of a stare
  • the ramen truck that blares until 11:30 on Thursday nights
  • lack of daylight savings in winter
  • lack of regular religious services
  • instant coffee

Silence is Golden 2

Along those same lines, love is not so much about communication as it is about presence. Because only one of those can replace the other.

Silence is Golden

When you spend a year living in a country where you can only understand 10% of the dialogue, you realize how unnecessary words are. Even for a woman who likes to write.

People talk too much. I talk too much. Since I'm about to make such a big change in lifestyle, I'd like to think of this as a new resolution. I want my life to involve way less talk and much more action.

They say you should marry someone you can talk to, but really, you should marry someone you can be quiet with. Silence is closely linked to happiness. And since actions speak louder than words anyway, what do you really need to say?

09 July 2006

Mr. Ferdinand, Please Go Home

...to the home you had before you took up residence in mine.

I am sad to leave Japan, but I am not sad to leave (the mold and) the 3-inch cockroaches who, instead of scattering when you turn on the lights, like to hang out confused on the ceiling above your bed, waving their attenaes as if you smell funny to them. As if you are in their spaces; as if you are disturbing their peace.

The biggest one, the one who likes to hang out while I stomp and flail my arms and flick the lights and do everything possible to shoo him back into the walls** so that I may sleep in peace, I have named Mr. Ferdinand. I'm always happy to make a friend, but Mr. Ferdinand is not what I had in mind.

** I've set up no less than 7 roach traps in my 3-room apartment, but they only catch the little guys, not the 3-inch ones. I do love living alone, but after this, I might prefer another person if it would mean a nicer apartment sans roaches.

The Strangest Flower

If I don't have a book at the bus stop, I often get bored when public transportation arrives anywhere from 2 - 20 minutes later than scheduled. But at one bus stop in front of someone's house, I am always fascinated by this flower. I stare and stare and can't get enough and before I know it the bus arrives.

The ants also can't get enough. They go crazy and, although you can't see them in this picture, constantly run over its surface doing who knows what (I can't see them eating anything or gathering any nectar, just running over this flower like it's a jungle gym). It doesn't even produce a noticeable odor.

If you know the name of this one please let me know, because it is the strangest flower I've ever seen in my life.

07 July 2006

Give Me an "H" !

The coolest thing about teaching is that the kids make me laugh a lot, for a whole slew of reasons. Even when I am doing something as routine and endless and boring as grading 400 tests, there is always something worthy of stomach-grabbing laughter.

Like today, in the middle of these 400 tests. I am responsible for the "oral communication" classes at my school, so each semester I make a listening exam. For about 30 minutes I talk into a tape recorder, and on test day play the tape for students to answer questions about pronunciation, imaginary diary entries, and sentence dictations. Without question, dictation is the most difficult section. And today it's what made me crack up.

One of my past lessons was about music and emotions, so I thought it would be a "fun" topic for the exam. I was also responsible for weaving in a random set of vocabulary words, totally unrelated words like "drawer" and "headache." So in the dictation about listening to new CDs, students were supposed to write,

"I'm sorry, but right now I have a headache" as one of the answers. Here is a list of the words / phrases I got in place of "I have a headache."

  • headwig
  • head deck
  • I have aholic
  • an egg
  • ahead one egg
  • headcake
  • head dick

and my two personal favorites:

  • headquake
  • head-leak

"Head-leak" is the one that really had me rolling. When you're plugging along grading papers and your eye is trained to recognize the correct answer quickly, the deviations can be quite surprising -- especially when they are real words.

Not quite as funny, but in place of the song title "Tears in Heaven," there was

  • Devil Haven
  • Tires in Heaven

Now, as a teacher my job is certainly not to make fun of the students or display their innocent "incompetence" all over the web. (That is definitely not my point.) Overall the students did a great job! But I had to share part of what being a language teacher is all about.

03 July 2006


Today I was attacked by a small bird who stabbed me with its needle beak.

Then I realized it was a mosquito.

The other mysterious objects flying around Fuji's air are much smaller -- scents. What you can smell varies with the season as well as the time of day. But as an experiment, I'll try to paint you a rambling picture of Fuji odors. Pretend you can't see anything, and in one summer day, this is what you'd smell (apologies if this is too realistic or graphic for some people, but such is life -- it's not all about flowers):

-slightly fishy fish (a neighbor's breakfast, comes at intervals through the window)
-a thick but low-lying smell of damp hay and grass (tatami mats in summer)
-light saltiness of sweat
-mildew (bathroom towels and shower tiles never dry completely)
-cold ceramic, copper, and other metal, the way something at the dentist tastes (similar to blood, but it comes from the bathroom tile and pipes)

Here I could go on about minty toothpaste, but I'll stick with what is unique to Japan. At this point your nose will start to get stuffy from all the molds and pollens and polutants floating around, which will dull your senses a bit. But still there is:

-sour yet throat-scratching fuel exhaust
-honeysuckle and other weed-like but sweet little flowers
-bagged garbage (awaiting collection in the sun)
-a light layer of dried leaves over a headier layer of leaves and stalks and soil that is always damp, always in the shade, always rotting and growing at the same time; a cooling scent that is released and smells better just before a rain, and just after a rain when the dried-out leaves on top are quenched and all the vegetation relaxes together and there's no more rotting until the sun comes out again

-strangers' sweat, old ladies' dried-out, powdery skin and clothes, more fuels and metals (the bus ride to work)
-faint smell of old rubber and worn shoes at the school entrance where everyone changes into indoor slippers
-a comforting, sweet, pungent, grandfatherly smell of dried tobacco leaves (some of the men leave old coke cans by the door to collect ashes from the cigars and cigarettes they smoke outside during breaks)
-a sexy, full-bodied, charcoal and rosemary and cinammon and cool water masculine cologne, worn by the young office guy (the only cologne I have ever smelled in Japan)
-old building dust that is re-baking in the sun (a smell that is only present in summer)
-the yellow, closeted, musty smell of old library books, in contrast to the freshly-toxic chemical smell of newly-printed books shrink-wrapped in thin, tight plastic (a tinge of something similar to nail-polish remover, warning you not to inhale too much of its newness)
-hot flavored instant coffees
-burned, overly-bitter drip coffees
-green tea
-women's soap, shampoo, and waxy lipstick residues
-bars of fatty lemon-flavored soap
-sweat of teenagers in uniform sweaters despite the heat
-salty miso soup, bitter and sour Japanese pickles (described as smelling like dirty feet or other unpleasant body odors, but eaten by everyone around my desk)
-Japanese curry
-caramel-flavored iced coffee
-baking bread and thick, warm cream from the "French" bakery across the street
-sweat from teachers of various body weights and stress-levels
-mysterious flower that drifts into the teachers' room as the day begins to end
-even stronger scent of invisible flowers as night falls
-sewage, old soapy dirty dishwater, chlorine from the city's drains
-damp piles of wood from trucks driving up the mountain carrying supplies
-pan-warmed soy sauce and mirin (sweetened sake)
-popcorn-like smell of fluffy white rice (no butter)

-damp tatami, cooling down and smelling even more like hay than in the morning (after a day's worth of wet, warm air)
-red wine
-breeze bringing a mix of food from other kitchens, a fresh coolness as the sun sets,, and thick, stinky, sulfurous smells from the paper factory at the coastline
-the smell of the earth before it rains...sometimes it materializes into the fresh metallic smell of rain, but sometimes the air just remains in that heavy state of expectation until it gives up and dies away
-powdery laundry detergents
-freshening anti-mold and mildew sprays like light pine and flowers and water and mint
-familiar sheets (bedtime...rest and repeat)

Of course, the hardest thing about describing scent is that it's nearly impossible to do without referring to something else. Think of this as a work in progress, or at least, no where near complete.

Fuji Summer, Again

You know the saying, "When the cat's away, the mice will play?" For a high school in Japan, it should go more like this: "When the cat's away and the mice are sweating like pigs, they all get to stick their heads in the freezer."

It's extremely humid, the way that makes you feel dirty after stepping out of the shower and that leaves your clothes constantly damp and stuck to your skin. Contrary to my tennis coach's recommendations to spend time sans AC and "climatize," or get used to the hot weather, nobody can adjust to humidity. Japanese people complain about it more than I do! So when the principal and both vice-principals went out of town yesterday for a business trip, the air conditioner suddenly came alive. It pounded out dry, icy air like I've never seen before in Japan. I forgot that the AC existed in the teachers' room, because last summer it was never used. But with no one to monitor school expenses, that baby was on full blast.

Which brings me to yet another thing I never believed I would believe before coming to Japan: I didn't want the AC on!! It was assaulting. It was like a snow monster came at the most inappropriate time to freeze us all out. My initial, 2-second relief was followed by a sensation that this cold air just didn't "fit." It was too much in contrast to the outside and, since I haven't been in such heavy AC for a year, I could feel my body trying to deal with the change. I'm not saying I don't need an air conditioner, but I am saying I don't need it on as high as I thought. When your body just surrenders to the seasons, it does feel like a more natural and comforting environment, even if it means you're sweating in work clothes.

Well, as long as you're not sweating too much. Not visibly, anyway. It's just that time of year called "summer," you know? We deal with it.

Today marks the start of exam week and my kids don't take the English test until tomorrow. That means I have free time until they finish and I am suddenly responsible for grading 400 papers. But I have plenty to do: I'm writing people I know in France to let them know I'll be there again, and I'm starting my goodbye speech for the school's closing ceremony. The letters are in far-from-perfect French, and the speech is in far-from-fluent Japanese. Of course, the speech is completely riddled with mistakes. But I can't tell you how happy it makes me to realize in hindsight that in the past couple days I've been using 3 languages to go about my business. I'm not saying I'm good at it, but for some reason it was always a dream of mine to be able to use 3 languages at once. Now that I'm doing it I can't tell you how satisfied it makes me feel.

Totally satisfied, until I remember how hot it is; until I have to peel the skirt away from my legs when I leave the computer, because in the meantime it has welded to me like saran wrap.

02 July 2006

Cafe Break 2 - The Fantasy Shapes Up

Since I don't know how to insert links to old posts, I've reposted one below from many months ago (in quotations so you know it's not current). I'm doing this because I find it amusing. A year in Japan has taught me many things, and the old fantasy has since gone through some restructuring.

Before that -- In another post I made some hideous generalization to the effect of, "love doesn't exist in Japan." But recently the truth of the Japanese love story hit me like a smack across the face. How's this for a paradox: it's not that love doesn't exist in Japan. It's that the Japanese version of love exists when people want to love each other, but can't. Be it unrequited or star-crossed, "Japanese love" is desire that cannot actually be realized. So if you want to argue that yes, the Japanese do believe in love, I might have to agree with you. But if the only passion is the kind that can't actually happen...does that really count? If "love" is what occurs between two people who share one dream but cannot actually make it come true, is that really the same thing? Seems to me like this phenomenon should have another name. Something more along the lines of "shit happening" or "it's never enough" or "we tried but it was just too hard so life conquered our love instead." The two people who want to be together most certainly would not hesitate to call it "love," even though it was broken from the beginning. I can speak from experience, so I guess I must give this disappointing-yet-classic Japanese version some credit. Still, they ought to call it something else.

Here's the old post, and after, I'll talk about what has changed. If you've been following my blog I hope this gives you a good chuckle.

"I just received my recontracting papers in the mail. In short, I must decide whether or not to leave Japan after one year, or stay for two. John, the other ALT, is decidedly staying for two. I was discussing with him the possibility of leaving after only one year, telling him about my goals for Japan and my goals for the rest of my life. After hitting on many subjects, most of which were not related to love or romance, he snickered, turned his head to one side, looked at me shrewdly from the corner of his eyes and said accusingly, "You just want to get married."

I don't remember how I responded, but I can promise you, I was pissed off.

First of all, why does he say it like he's accusing me of something? Most guys act like this, and many women do, too: it's wrong, weak, old-fashioned, dependent, unadventurous and shrewish to desire marriage. Not to mention, everyone knows that marriage is a trap into which all women try to lure all unsuspecting men, with the single goal of making them feel miserable, trapped, and bored for the rest of their lives. In my experience, all guys seem to think all women want this. Guys want to sleep with you, and they have no qualms voicing these desires. But if you let on that what you prefer to a string of meaningless, soon-to-be-boring-if-not-confusing hookups is a real, intimate and fulfulling relationship with one person...well then by God, "you just want to get maried," and men should avoid you and your traps at all costs.

Second, what John "accused" me of is simply not true. My young-womanhood fantasy does not involve me running back to the US, spending my spare time curling my hair and reading Cosmo, desperately bar- and/or church-hopping to find Mr. Right, who will then propose to me and solve all my "single gal problems." No. Listen-up, fellas, this is what I really want. This is my fantasy:

I will live not under the same roof as my boyfriend, but alone. I will happily and ambitiously pursue my dream job as a successful novelist and creator of "real literature." I will get regular exercise and be a fantastic cook. Then, unexpectedly and without trying, I will meet a man and we will fall madly in love. He, in turn, will live alone, and he will also ambitiously pursue his dream-job that allows him to be financially independent. He will have his circle of guy friends with whom he can go out drinking, bowling, rock-climbing, or whatever it is he enjoys doing. And I of course will have my circle of girl friends, with whom I can talk about everything, shop, exchange cooking recipes and yoga routines. Our lives will be exciting with the security and comfort of knowing that my significant other is there for me. And I, in turn, will be there for him. We will spend our time together relaxing by visiting museums, going hiking, checking out new restaurants and bars, having intellectual discussions, watching college basketball, going on romantic picnics, reading in parks, playing tennis, going to hear quartets, staying on the couch all night to watch movies, grilling steaks and drinking red wine. Sometimes we'll cook together and then do dishes together. But the laundry, the vacuuming, the picking-up and the money-earning will be done on our own, independently, because we ultimately live in our own spaces. We'll have the comfort of loving and being loved enough to marry the other person, but we will also have the freedom and the space necessary to be truly happy in such a close, committed relationship if we are not actually married.

Then maybe, when I'm about 30, I'd like to marry this man, and take a brief hiatus from my career to raise our two beautiful children. I refuse to be one of those women who insists she can "have it all" and do everything at once, because that just triples her workload and makes her more tired, stressed, resentful, and frazzled than I ever care to be. One thing at a time, and I will make the most of everything.

Happily unwed until the day that I am wed.

PS -- There is nothing in here to suggest I cannot have all this with a man I've already met."

What Has Changed:

  • Though I will always be passionate about writing (there's just no choice in that matter), the dream job has morphed into an idea I've kept close to me all along. This means that instead of returning to America, I'll move to France for a year.
  • Ideally, I'd like to get married sooner than later. And that's all I mean. You can't force anything and I don't intend to. But I realize that the more I learn about myself, the more comfortable I become with the idea of "settling down."

What Has Remained the Same:

  • I still think your own space is necessary unless you are going to marry someone. I imagine cohabitation requires tons of commitment and sacrifice, and I'm only interested in giving up my autonomy if it is a means to an end -- if there's a shared vision of a life together past the cohabitation step. Otherwise, it just feels like too much compromise too early.
  • There will be no bar-hopping or Cosmo-reading.
  • I still don't think the best way to happiness is trying to "have it all." I want to lead a peaceful, purposeful life, not a frazzled one in which I've tried to cram too much.

I hope that this time in Japan has made me less naive and more independent. I hope it has given me a clearer vision of what I need to be content. I think I've learned quite a bit, and for that I have many people to thank. :) Unlike one of my favorite professors, at age 23 I'm not daydreaming of "a man, a house, and a child" yet, but I can feel myself getting closer. I'm just paying attention to my cards and playing the best hand I know how.